John Quinn was headed home, his first day as New Brunswick High’s head football coach complete, when he received a call from police. One of his players had been in a car accident.
Quinn hurried to the scene, and found one of his sophomores lying on Livingston Avenue. The kid hit a car while riding his bicycle, the collision sending him through the windshield. Quinn followed the player and his mother to the hospital.
“He was pretty banged up, he had a lot of cuts,” Quinn, now the athletic director at Plainfield High, recalled. “But no broken bones.”
Take a few days, Quinn told him. Give us a call when you’re feeling better. The mom agreed, and Quinn went home. New England Patriots Cheap Jerseys.
Quinn arrived at the field at 6:40 a.m. the next day. He expected to be the first person there, because the head coach should be the first one there.
But he wasn’t first. The kid Quinn sat with at the hospital a few hours earlier was, sitting on his bike, waiting for the gate to be unlocked.
“I say, ‘Hey, how are you feeling?’ He goes, ‘I feel good,'” Quinn said.
“And I go, ‘What are you doing up here? Are you going to the trainer for treatment?’ And he says, ‘No coach. I’m ready to practice.’ And I knew right that day, that this kid is a keeper.”
The kid’s name was Jonathan Casillas. In hindsight, those sore ribs he suffered in the preseason never had a chance to keep Casillas out of the Giants’ season opener against the Cowboys.
Quinn has told that story for years. First to college recruiters, now to a reporter. It may sound too good to be true, but Quinn vows it is, and Casillas has told the story before himself.
But the latest chapter to Casillas’ story? No one saw this coming. Quinn certainly had no idea the tough kid he encountered his first day on the job in 2002 would be the Giants’ starting weakside linebacker and captain 14 years later, preparing for Sunday’s home opener against the Saints, the team that gave him his first professional shot.
But here we are.
“No one could write a better story,” Casillas said earlier this week, a smile across his face as he stood by his locker.
‘I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO YOU’
When Casillas signed with the Giants in 2015, a 10-year journey home ended.
Casillas grew up in Jersey City before moving to New Brunswick for high school. He started playing football as a freshman. By the end of his sophomore season, he was a starting linebacker. By his senior year, he was a recruit with multiple scholarship offers.
But there was a notable omission.
“Greg Schiano said, ‘John, he’s the one kid out of Sports Cheap Jerseys I wish I had a second shot at. I should have listened to you,'” Quinn said. But Schiano, then the Rutgers coach, thought Casillas was a “tweener,” too small to be a linebacker, but not quite a safety.
Quinn told Schiano that Casillas could be a linebacker once he had a year or two in a college weight room, but Schiano was never convinced. So Casillas was off to Wisconsin. By the end of his freshman season, he was a Badger folk hero.
Wisconsin trailed rival Minnesota, 34-31, with under a minute to go when Casillas blocked a punt. The kick was recovered by a teammate in the end zone, lifting Wisconsin to an improbable victory.
Casillas started 36 games at Wisconsin. He was projected as a mid-round NFL Draft pick. But a knee injury at the end of his senior season hindered his pre-draft process. He went undrafted, and signed with New Orleans.
He fought his way onto the roster that summer, getting two starts as a rookie. He also helped the Saints win Super Bowl XLIV, recovering New Orleans’ surprise onside kick to open the second half.
Casillas was set to start in 2010, but he suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason. He would play two more years in New Orleans, starting an additional six games. But Casillas, like many other NFL players, became pigeonholed.
The world decided he was a standout special teams player, and a backup linebacker best suited for nickel packages. Casillas embraced the roles he was given, but he believed he could do more.
“It did bother me. And then you hit free agency, and you’re trying to lobby for yourself, and they’re like, ‘Oh, you only played 19 percent of the defensive plays,'” Casillas said. “You’re a prime time special teams player, cool, but you only played 19 percent of the defensive plays. It’s tough. But you’ve got to be ready, and you’ve got to be available.”
Casillas signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2013. Schiano was the Buccaneers’ coach, and did not want Casillas to get away a second time.
Schiano was fired at the end of that season. Casillas started seven games in Tampa, but left a few months after Schiano, traded to the Patriots during the 2014 season. Three more starts, and a second Super Bowl ring, awaited in New England.
Then it was time to come home.
‘IT’S COMING TO ME RIGHT NOW’
If you see Casillas, there’s a good chance he will be wearing a hat. It might be a New York Rangers cap, or maybe an Islanders cap. Or a Devils cap, a Mets cap, a Yankees cap.
Casillas wears the hats to support the local teams. They also speak to the joy he has being home in New Jersey, close to loved ones and the communities he grew up in, playing for the local club. His dad, Nike NFL Jerseys From China City playground hoops legend Flash Gordon, is at almost every game. His 5-year-old daughter, Jade, is at many as well.
“I’m a very family-oriented person, and my family is around now,” he said. “It’s not easy when you don’t have anyone around, besides people that come to see you every now and again. But now, I have everybody here. Having that support system here is always good.”
The Giants signed Casillas to improve their special teams, and provide depth at linebacker. He did that, overcoming a neck injury in the preseason to start seven games last year.
But this offseason, it clicked. Casillas returned to his natural position at weakside linebacker, and spent much of the spring with the first-team defense as J.T. Thomas battled a hamstring issue.
Casillas grabbed a stranglehold on the job once training camp began. Casillas was one of the Giants’ best players in the preseason. And with his mild rib injury behind him, he continued his star turn in Sunday’s 20-19 win over the Cowboys, leading the team with 10 tackles and faring well in pass coverage. He has become the Giants’ only three-down linebacker – something few anticipated.
It’s a question many have asked. Casillas always been fast. Casillas is had the Middlesex County 100-meter record until earlier this spring, when New Brunswick’s Maurice Ffrench broke it, and he dusted former NFL running back Knowshon Moreno as a senior in a state sectional race, running a 10.77 second first-place finish to Moreno’s second-place 11.23.
“But I’ve got to continue to get better. There’s a lot of mistakes I made this past weekend. I’ve got to continue to improve on and upgrade myself, so I can help this defense continue to rise.”
“It’s been a good few months. I’ve been working hard, trying to do all the right things, live my life the right way. It’s coming to me right now,” Casillas said. “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be a captain of my hometown team. Who can say that?
“I don’t take anything for granted,” Casillas said. “I’m getting a little older in my career. When you’re younger, you think you can play 10 years. Then you get to year No. 8, and 10 years is there. Nothing is promised. Anything can happen. That’s what the NFL is.”
“He’s active, he’s fast, he can run. He’s, in a lot of ways, what you’re looking for in today’s linebacker when you’re playing a game in space,” Saints coach Sean Payton said.
“He had very good makeup. I think he’s someone that is well thought of here, in this building. … It doesn’t surprise me at all. There’s a growth that takes place with players.”
Giants coach Ben McAdoo said the team is fortunate they signed Casillas as a free agent two offseasons ago. Casillas will tell you he is fortunate to be where he is. He only needs to see Thomas, who went on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week with torn ligaments in his knee, to be reminded of that.
But for whatever reason, that speed was mostly utilized for special teams and sub package play. Until now. Casillas was the best linebacker on the field against the Cowboys, and he’s been that player since August. He is as indispensable at this point as a Olivier Vernon, or any other defensive standout.
But for now, Casillas is going to enjoy this. Soak it all in.
He’s home, he’s playing, he’s a captain, he’s a Giant.
“He’s a tremendous source of pride for me and all the guys that coached with me,” Quinn said. “I couldn’t be more proud of any kid that I’ve ever coached.
“Going from an undrafted free agent to a two-time Super Bowl winner, to now the captain of one of the NFL’s flagship franchises, in his home state, is nothing but storybook.”